St. Bartholomew Catholic School has found a way to add much-needed classroom space and get students outdoors: build a greenhouse.

The idea came from Bridget Steele, a St. Bartholomew middle school science teacher who always has wanted a garden or greenhouse near her classroom, and has observed a waning interest in spending time outdoors among youth.

“I feel that it is important to inspire them to see that (being outside) is really fulfilling and fun and can be something they can do when they get older, too,” Steele said. “We hope to inspire a love of growing and agriculture.”

The St. Bartholomew’s Parent Teacher Organization jumped at the idea as a means to increase student opportunities within a school where every last inch of classroom space and each supply closet is already being utilized, said Angie Revell, the PTO president.

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The concept quickly grew in size and scope as more teachers got on board and thought up ways it could be used across the curriculum and for all grades taught at the school.

The plan now calls for a 16-foot by 24-foot glass greenhouse, including a literacy garden, butterfly garden, bird station, weather station, fossil path, raised gardening beds, animal tracks, worm farm, archaeological dig area and engraved brick-paved pathway, Steele said.

What started as a project with an estimated cost of $15,000 to $20,000 burst into a $55,000 project, Revell said. The greenhouse — which will be called the Outdoor Learning Lab — is currently in the building stages after receiving funding from a grant from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, as well as community members and business matches.

“We are almost completely funded with a sustainable three-year plan,” Revell said. “We would really like to have $5,000 to $10,000 more to make sure it is sustainable for the next 10 years.”

Volunteers will be key to sustaining the space, Steele and Revell said. Anyone who wants to help in any way — through funding, upkeep or teaching — would be welcomed.

“Perhaps they are crazy about compost and they would love to do a lesson on compost,” Steele said. “We would love to have them and I would love to hear from them.”

The building kit arrived the last week of April, and should be built quickly, Revell said. From there, the fun begins for the teachers who will get to implement their ideas and start the growing process. The whole lab is expected to be set up and ready to go by the beginning of the fall semester.

Then the hands-on learning begins for students, something Steele is excited for as she primarily teaches the hands-on approach and has a majority of students who learn best in that setting.

“I know how important it is to learning that they have an opportunity to do what they are learning. There are real-world connections, and if they can understand the connection to the real world then they will understand the content,” Steele said.

Get Involved

Anyone interested in volunteering in any capacity or in donating to the Outdoor Learning Lab should contact Bridget Steele at bsteele@stbirish.net.

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Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at kevener@therepublic.com or 812-379-5633.